Monday 29 January 2018

Review: Five Ancient Kingdoms

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sales without extra cost to you).

Five Ancient Kingdoms is an old-school D&D-esque game focussing on adventures in a vaguely Middle Eastern fantasy world. The terms and game mechanics closely resemble those of D&D, but there are a couple differences as outlined below.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Thematic OSR Series

I have talked about thematic OSR games in the past. What I mean by the term are D&D-esque games that are not merely clones (e.g. Labyrinth Lord or Delving Deeper) or house ruled variants (e.g. Dungeon Questing or Blood & Treasure), but rather games rebuilt to serve a niche setting or campaign structure (e.g. Wulfwald or There is Therefore a Strange Land) or very particular genre conventions (e.g. Arcana Rising or Silent Legions). It definitely isn't an objectively measurable property of games, and it's more of a continuum than a binary attribute (that is, the easier it is to simply reskin the game without changing the mechanics, the more abstract it is, therefore either more divorced from its theme, or the less unique its theme is). I would like to note, though, that virtually any mechanical change introduced will result in a slightly different game, and I'm not arguing the opposite.

In the following weeks, I will take a closer look at some of the games I consider thematic to some degree and discuss how they tweak the rules or call attention to the specifics of the genre or setting through the mechanics and procedures (including adventure generation tools).

These reviews are compiled from extensive notes I took while reading (or often rereading) the games in question, and they follow the same formula. First, I describe the game system and its most significant departures from the original games. Then I list the things I liked the most about the game (be they design choices, layout, or just a clever little tweak), then the things I didn't like. There ought to be a lot of subjectivity involved in this, but I try my best to make the list as relevant as possible for those who feel otherwise (and for them, the whole thing should be a simple list of features). Finally, I write about how the game approaches its premise and whether it falls short in some areas (again, in my humble opinion). I plan on releasing one such review every other week, and I have written a handful of them in advance, just in case. I have identified more than 20 games that fit this series (a few of them are yet to be published at this point).

My main goal with all this is to shed light on some of the more neglected games and present the state of a particular segment of the OSR. I don't intend to bash on products, but I will obviously point out their shortcomings (again, from my point of view). Familiarity with the structure and terminology of D&D-esque games is assumed (e.g. HD, AC, saves, etc.).

Monday 8 January 2018

Review: Stalkers of the Elder Dark

This a reading review of the recently published Stalkers of the Elder Dark. It is a game of cosmic horror in the veins of Call of Cthulhu and Silent Legions. It is a small game (roughly 12k words on 94 pages of 6×9 inches) with very few mechanical widgets, set in the 1920s, and the cosmic creatures, grimoires, and alien technology greatly resembles the Cthulhu mythos (although it also alludes to another product by the authors, Opherian Scrolls).